Thanks, I Guess?

I had an awkward conversation with another lawyer the other day, in which he delivered a withering critique of my management style.

Lawyers typically don’t say “thank you” the way that you insist upon thanking everyone ad nauseam, he informed me.

Hmmm.

I make it a point to express gratitude for a job well done, I said.  I’ve found it makes people more willing to work with me in the future, or get something done faster.  Also, I think it’s important to tell people when I genuinely appreciate something.

This lawyer went on to criticise my way of managing people and projects as if I hadn’t been in practice for nearly a decade; as if I hadn’t worked in a variety of capacities as an attorney — in-house; in private practice; as a legal secondee; so on/so forth.

For his part, his only legal experience was as a law firm attorney.  He had never been in the business of managing anything other than his professional self.  And maybe asking a junior associate for assistance, or requesting that his secretary book travel or do some wordprocessing.

All I am saying is that it’s unnecessary.  Brevity is key.  And then he smiled a smarmy, condescending smile: I find that good lawyers understand economy of language.  Good lawyers can make fewer words work harder for them.

Was he calling me a bad lawyer?  Was he saying that my verbosity was an impediment to my career?  And how did saying “thanks for doing a great job” suddenly constitute too many words?  I smiled tightly, and turned away from the conversation.  It was a social setting; he and I didn’t work together in any capacity, and we were only the most casual of acquaintances.

But as I was walking away, I heard him say behind my back:  I don’t know why she works so hard at trying to make people like her.  She has a great ass, it’ll get her whatever she wants.  She doesn’t even need to be smart!

I paused for a moment, unsure of whether to be extremely insulted or utterly amused.  I decided I was both.

Then I walked away.

Later that night, he sent me an email — not one containing an apology, rather asking me out for a drink.

Needless to say, I didn’t bother with a reply.  I didn’t even take a moment to thank him for noticing how hard I work for this ass.

As a lawyer, I suppose the important thing I have learned about managing others — and oneself — is knowing when to say “thank you.”

But the even more important thing is knowing when to say nothing at all.

4 Comments

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  1. People who don’t understand good manners and sincere interaction quite often take to criticism to cover up their lack of either. Loved this, and thank you for posting it.

  2. Saying thank you is important Above All Things. Ever. It comes as no surprise to me that this is something you place importance on. As for That Man, I truly am left without the right words to say.

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